On the Mountain of Heart and Mind, the Monkey King stood before a double door in the mountainside. Beside it was a huge stone tablet carved in ancient characters.
DIVINE CAVE OF THE THREE STARS
“This is the place!” said the Monkey King. “Right where the woodcutter told me. I just hope I look all right in these human clothes.” He glanced down at what he’d gathered on his journey—black boots, red robe, and yellow sash.
Just then, one of the doors opened and a young man peered out at him. “You can’t be the one!” he exclaimed in horror.
“What one?” asked the Monkey King.
“My master, the Patriarch Subodhi, just mounted the dais to deliver the day’s discourse. But instead of starting, he told me to open the door, because someone had come who wished to study the Way.”
“That’s me!” said the Monkey King.
“You don’t say!” said the young man, laughing. “Then come along.”
They walked down a stone corridor and into a large chamber, where thirty or forty disciples faced a dais made of jade. Sitting cross-legged on the platform was a man who looked as old as Heaven, yet strong and healthy. His flowing beard trailed away behind him.
“Master!” cried the Monkey King, dropping to his knees and knocking his head on the floor. “Please accept this humble seeker as your disciple!”
“Humble, is it?” said the Patriarch. “We’ll see about that! But tell me, what is your name?”
“I have no name, Master, for I had no parents to give me one. I was born from a magic stone.”
“Most unusual,” said the Patriarch thoughtfully. “Well, what if I name you ‘Monkey’?”
“Master, what an ingenious idea! It fits me perfectly!”
“Then ‘Monkey’ it is,” said the Patriarch. “And for now, you may stay and learn with the others—just as long as you keep out of trouble!”
* * *
So Monkey became a student of the Way. Each day, he studied scriptures, discussed doctrine, and listened to the discourse of the Patriarch. The rest of the time, he swept the cave, helped in the vegetable garden and orchard, gathered firewood, and carried water from the stream. Days went by, then weeks, then months, then years.
One day during the Patriarch’s discourse, Monkey grew so excited that he could not contain himself. With his eyes closed, he got up on all fours and began leaping and turning.
“Stop that!” roared the Patriarch. “Monkey, why are you prancing about?”
“Forgive me, Master!” said Monkey. “I was so happy to hear your words, I danced without knowing it!”
“Is that so!” said the Patriarch, looking at Monkey thoughtfully. “You’ve been here seven years now, I believe. Tell me, what branch of the Way do you wish to learn from me?”
“Master,” said Monkey, “you know how ignorant I am. Anything you want to teach me is fine.”
“What if I teach you the Way of the Seventy-Two Changes? You’ll then be able to turn yourself into anything you want.”
“Wonderful!” said Monkey.
So the Patriarch whispered into Monkey’s ear.
For three months, Monkey practiced the techniques in private. Then one day, as he walked back from his chores in the orchard, the Patriarch came up to him.
“Monkey, how are you doing with those tidbits I taught you?”
“Just fine, Master,” said Monkey. “I can now accomplish all of the Seventy-Two Changes. But tell me, Master, will this make me immortal?”
“Not likely!” said the Patriarch.
“Then I beg you to teach me more.”
“All right,” said the Patriarch. “What about Cloud Soaring? You’ll then be able to travel quickly wherever you want.”
“Marvelous!” said Monkey.
The Patriarch explained, “When Immortals or Buddhas or gods want to travel great distances, they ride on magic clouds. They rise to the cloud by stamping one foot, and stamp it again to move the cloud forward. But you’re built differently. So instead, let’s try the Cloud Somersault.”
Then the Patriarch taught Monkey how to somersault high into the air, land on a magic cloud, and propel it across the sky with more somersaults.
Another three months passed while Monkey practiced. Soon he could travel for hundreds of miles with each somersault. Then one day the Patriarch paused in his discourse and addressed Monkey again from the dais.
“Monkey, how are you doing with that little trick I taught you?”
“Very well, Master. But tell me, will this make me immortal?”
“I should say not!”
“Then please, Master, teach me more!”
The Patriarch jumped from the dais and stalked angrily up to Monkey. “You greedy creature! Will you never be satisfied? Will you never stop demanding?”
He thumped Monkey on the head three times. Then, with his hands held behind his back, he stomped into his private chamber and slammed the door.
“Stupid ape!” yelled one of the disciples. “You’ve upset the Master!”
“Yes,” said another, “and who knows when he’ll come out again!”
But Monkey just sat there grinning.
Late that night, Monkey crept from the disciples’ sleeping place, out the front door of the cave, and around to the back. There he found the Patriarch’s door left open a crack.
“Come in, Monkey,” came the Patriarch’s voice.
Monkey slipped inside. In the candlelight, he saw the Patriarch sitting cross-legged on his cot.
The Patriarch smiled. “I see you understood my secret signs.”
“Yes, Master. I knew that hitting me three times meant to come here in the third watch of the night. And holding your hands behind you meant to use the back door. I came just as you instructed.”
“In that case,” said the Patriarch, “it’s your destiny to learn the Way of Immortality. Come close, my disciple, and hear the secrets of Eternal Life.”
And so the Patriarch revealed his precious wisdom. But what he said must not be written here.
* * *
For three years Monkey practiced the secret techniques. His body grew hard and enduring and full of powerful energies. Then one day, he was sitting with the other disciples outside the cave.
“Monkey,” said one of them, “what is that nonsense about the ‘Seventy-Two Changes’? Can you really turn yourself into something else?”
“I certainly can,” said Monkey proudly.
“We won’t believe it till we see it,” said another.
“Then just watch this,” said Monkey. He called out, “Change!” And there in place of Monkey stood a unicorn!
“Bravo! Bravo!” yelled the students. They cheered and applauded as Monkey changed back and took a bow.
Just then, the Patriarch Subodhi burst from the cave. “What’s all this noise?” he shouted. “Don’t you know that followers of the Way never shout?”
“We’re sorry, Master,” said Monkey. “I was just showing them one of my changes.”
The Patriarch turned white. “Away, all of you—except Monkey!”
When they were alone, the Patriarch turned on his disciple. “Is that how you use your powers—to show off? Don’t you realize the others will be jealous? They’re sure to come and demand your secrets. And if you refuse, they may seek revenge!”
“Master, I’m sorry!” said Monkey. “I didn’t think!”
“Well, I won’t punish you,” said the Patriarch. “But you’re not safe here any longer, so you’ll have to leave.”
“Master, where would I go?” said Monkey in alarm.
“That’s your business,” said the Patriarch. “But on your way, you’d better pick up a magic weapon for protection. The Dragon King of the Eastern Sea might have something useful.”
“But, Master,” said Monkey with tears in his eyes, “how can I leave without repaying all your kindness?”
“Don’t do me any favors,” said the Patriarch. “Once you’re gone, you’re bound to land in serious trouble. Just keep my name out of it, and don’t you dare tell anyone you’re my disciple!”
“Master, I promise,” said Monkey. “Good-bye, Master.” Then he somersaulted into the air, landed on a magic cloud, and flew off, head over heels.
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